Wisconsin Football: Can Melvin Gordon Be Badgers' Go-to Back in 2014?

Andrew CoppensContributor IFebruary 19, 2014

Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Indiana Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Andy Manis/Associated Press

When you've rushed for 1,600 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in a season, there shouldn't be many questions surrounding your abilities. For Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, however, the 2014 season will be his first as UW's featured back.

The question is, can he be the one the Badgers can count on to be the team's every-down, go-to back?

Gordon's immense talent has been on display for a while, but he's never truly had to be "the man," the go-to back in Wisconsin's offense. He's never been the one taking the bulk of the carries. There's always been a James White or Montee Ball in front of him.

Morry Gash/Associated Press

While Gordon flirted with the idea of the NFL for a while this past season, he's back in Madison and has that one lingering question to answer.

The question seems a bit absurd, considering he has a career average of 7.6 yards per carry and has already topped 2,300 rushing yards in his career as well.

Wisconsin has never really asked Gordon to be the workhorse back, the one taking 30 or even 20 carries a game. He's averaged only 10.3 carries a game in his career to date and Gordon only saw more than 20 carries twice all season in 2013.

So, there is some legitimacy to wondering if Gordon is capable of being a player that can put the team on his back and take a 30-carry-per-game beating.

Gordon's history also tells us that doubting his abilities and adaptability may not be the smartest thing either.

After redshirting his first year on campus, Gordon wasn't going to be denied the field and it didn't take long for him to make a niche for himself.

In 2012, Gordon became UW's secret weapon, the guy the Badgers would go to after opponents had had enough of James White and Montee Ball. He became the Badgers' home run hitter, if you will, averaging 10 yards per carry on just 62 rushes for 621 yards.

His coming-out party was the nine-carry, 216-yard performance in that season's Big Ten Championship Game victory over Nebraska.

However, Gordon was seen as a bit of novelty act during that season. Sure, he came in and hit the home run ball from time to time, but could he be anything more than the edge-rushing gimmick UW used him as in 2012?

The 2013 results showed Gordon was much more than a gimmick. In fact, he showed he had the vision needed to be the back running between the tackles on more than one occasion.

With that said, he wasn't the only back the Badgers were counting on last season, as Gordon finished the year second in carries behind senior James White, who had 221 carries for 1,444 yards.

Gordon now faces a season in which he is finally going to be "the man" in Wisconsin's backfield. With a lack of known quantities at wide receiver, his role has to grow.

Not only will Gordon be counted on for more carries, he will be counted on to be the leader of a very young running back group. That group features just one other back with carries on it in soon-to-be sophomore Corey Clement.

Counting on Clement to take up White's carries may be a bit much, but the question is, just how much more Gordon can take on a game-by-game basis?

No one has ever seen him be a workhorse backnot even in high school where fellow UW teammate Vonte Jackson was waiting in the wings behind him.

The doubts are small, though, when you look at Gordon's history on the field and ambition. He made no secret of why he chose to come back to Wisconsin for the 2014 season—winning for his team and winning the Heisman Trophy.

“It’s really important to me,” Gordon told Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal. “I was close this year at the beginning of the season. Couldn’t finish strong, just some things that happened. ... If I stay, I would be a contender next year.”

Gordon certainly has the drive and will to succeed. Now it's about proving the final doubters wrong one more time.

Adding up all the pieces to the puzzle, there should be little doubt that Gordon is going to be in a position to thrive as the go-to back for Wisconsin in 2014.